CANINE PARTNERS OF THE ROCKIES
April 10, 2014
Adventures in Power Wheelchair Training
with CaPR’s Ivy and Trainer Lyn Manton Krueger
Training next to manual and power wheelchairs is imperative for a mobility service trainee. Ivy has become quite comfortable working next to the manual chair, as I suspect she feels it is predictable while leveling the trainer to a less mobile position. The chair often travels with us, and is used in public access situations.
Then there is the unpredictable power wheelchair. The handling of the power chair takes quite a bit of finesse, in my opinion. It cannot travel with us, as I do not have a vehicle, ramp or lift that can easily load and unload the chair. So Ivy and I work in the power chair in and outside the training room, which is located in a shopping center. If Ivy were to share her thoughts on the power chair, she might adamantly insist the driver take courses in basic and advanced power chair handling prior to working next to her. Though the chair is quite stable when stopped, it tends to become an unpredictable monster when moving, able to scream along at apparent warp speeds.
Recently, I boldly decided to venture to the Dillon Post Office in the power chair, trusty Ivy at my side, for a distance of approximately 1.5 miles round trip. We traversed up and down winter weather-beaten sidewalks; activated debris-strewn crossing signals: navigated across six lanes of traffic on Highway 6; mistakenly entered the roundabout, where a guard popped out of his observation shack offering to stop traffic to get us safely through, me laughing at my directionally-challenged decision; and through four, count them, four doors that Ivy was required to activate by hitting the handicap buttons mounted on the wall with her front feet. (Frankly, when I walk there is not much time to get through the opened doors.) Factor in precarious driver of power chair and power chair-cautious Ivy, and soaring adrenalin levels. Post Office patrons move in quickly to assist us – quite a scene.
Once safely inside, we approach our low level post office box, which I am able to open with a key from my chair. (Locating where I stashed the key took a few moments, though.) Ivy peeks inside the box, straining to see the inner workings of the post office, I imagine, as it was clear she was not looking at the intimidating pile of bills and magazines. Once cued, she began the arduous task of taking pieces of mail in her teeth, gently removing them from the cold metal box, and looking up to me in the chair, trying to accomplish the hand-off without dropping items. It really is heartwarming to see how much focus and effort it takes without opposable thumbs.
Mission accomplished, we began going out the way we came in, though the doors opening away from us seemed so much easier to negotiate. I was wiser in the choice I made to avoid the roundabout, though it was not nearly as much fun. The chair responds to the slightest movement of the joy stick, and we weave and bob our way back. We arrived safely, if you can believe it, back at the sidewalk near the office, where Ivy was given an opportunity to relieve herself before going back into the training room. Once stopped, my heart rate returning to normal, Ivy approaches me with the biggest dog smile and waving tail. She inquires as to whether it would be okay to come up on my lap, and when given the cue, I get a big doggie hug from our girl. “Didn’t we do great?” she communicates with the exuberance of knowing it was a job well done.